Penpont Heritage Centre

Annual Reports

 To view the Group's annual reports to OSCR, please click here.


Chairperson's Report   -  2016/2017

This year has proved to be as busy as last with the main focus being on a return visit by Ezekiel, the Maasai Elder, whose first visit was last year. His first meeting with the Thomson family was so successful that, with the support of the Joseph Thomson Group, it was decided to set up a Thomson/Maasai Trust to explore the possibility of helping young people take part in an annual walk following in the footsteps of Joseph Thomson as he led his 1883 expedition through Maasai Land. The 75 mile stretch was chosen as it passed through the village of Ezekiel who returned to Britain to attend the launch of the Trust in Penpont Church in October 2016.

Ezekiel spoke about his wish for closer ties with Thomson's birthplace which he hoped would be promoted by this annual walk by a group from Britain supported and accompanied by a group of Maasai. Two great grand nephews, John Hastings-Thomson and Peter Wright MBE, spoke at the launch in full support of the project. After a short musical programme the launch ended with a Burns' song "A Man's a Man for A' That", sung by the well known William Willamson, yet another descendant of the explorer. The Trust will continue to meet at the Thomson house about 4 times a year and is well on track to see the first trek in 2018 organised by the Thomson Trust liaising with the Olakira le Maa Trust. 

On this second visit Ezekiel agai n went into the local schools and toured two contrasting farms. BBC Scotland were there to record this visit for their news programme. He also paid memorable visits to Glasgow, Edinburgh and the headquarters of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in Perth, where he secured publicity support and where he saw Sophia receive the Fellowship of the RSGS on behalf of the Joseph Thomson committee. This was in recognition of their sterling efforts to commemorate the life of the famous explorer.

By coincidence, a group of Maasai (Osiligi) dancers on a tour of Scotland were booked by Joan Neilson to perform in Thornhill church in October 2016. This was possible through local Communitity Councils and D & G Council who gave a hospitality grant enabling us to provide lunch in the Thomson House between visits to the local schools and the evening performance which was well received by a large audience. Videos were made available to the participants and copies were sent to the Osiligi Warriors in Kenya. We were pleased that Provost Thomson came to the performance.

Three of our members went to Edinburgh where Hamish Brown MBE, traveller and writer, gave an interesting talk on Thomson's travels in Morocco. This lecture was arranged by the Joseph Thomson  Maasai Trust. We are proud to support Maureen as the Trust's new treasurer and Gladys as a trustee with close ties to the Thomson family.

Last summer we arranged a History walk around Penpont starting with a presentation in the church and finishing with refreshments at the Heritage Centre. We hope to arrange similar walks soon round the three villages as well as organising Thomson Tours using the Thornhill and District community bus.

We wer pleased to hear from Fiona Armstrong, Lord Lieutenant, who figures largely in the Border Life TV programme, requesting us to make a contribution to a piece about Kirkpatrick Macmillan, the inventor of the first pedal bicycle near Keir in 1840. After visiting us at the centre in Penpont, she proceeded to Keir churchyard to interview yet another Thomson descendant, Robin Thomson, beside the McMillan headstone. Again we were grateful for the publicity and look forward to co-operating in an ITV programme about Thomson.

David Dewar, playwright, contacted us about the possibility of writing a musical play about Thomson which he hoped to stage as part of the Dumfries Arts Festival. We were delighted to offer our support and look forward to the performance in Penpont Church on 1st June at which we will serve refreshments.

At Penpont church and in Keir Hall there was a rededication of Rolls of Honour naming those who fought in WW1. Gladys, our archivist, arranged to have that of Virginhall and Keir refurbished and framed, the expense borne by Keir and Penpont Community Councils and the Church. At Keir Hall there was an exhibition of materials from local families augmented by a presentation of Keir history fromm the Heritage Centre. Gladys, last week, attended a House of Lords reception to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the War Memorials Trust following the tremendous contribution she has made in researching local war graves and compiling books on local War Memorials. These are available at the Centre. We are please to tock Neil McKay's book, "McKay Penpont", about the life and times of his father, a well known local businessman and benefactor. Neil had the honour of delivering a eulogy at the funeral of Stanley Grierson, son of William Grierson, grocers in Penpont for generations. Stanley had donated writings and artefacts to the Heritage Centre before the opening and had given Neil a Penpont water pump to place where he thought fit. Neil would like to put it in the Thomson garden. The weather cock (from the Church) is ready to be erested also.

We appreciate the generosity of past residents including Jean Morrison, daughter of Ian and district nurse Moira, who was in touch after finding us on our website. The Saturday teas and Ellas Halliday, a descendant, have donated generously to a fund set aside to install a Victorian fireplace in the village room. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our friends and supporters who enable us, not only to cover our costs, but to enjoy showing our cottage and archives to appreciative visitors.

In January we were asked to accommodate students from Glasgow University (Crichton Campus) as part of a project on David Livingstone and his contemporaries. We hired the village hall in which to give a presentation on Thomson, provided refreshments there and, in groups, showed them the interesting aspects of the cottage. Their visit was short but it provied to us that we are able to deal with large groups.

Sandy Hall, who did so  much work in the refurbishment of the John Ross gravestone alerted us to the fact that a Tynron soldier, who fought in the First World War was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917. However, we have learned that D & G Council had plans in hand for November so we are hoping to stage an exhibition to coincide with this as we are proud to represent all three parishes.

It is good to see the rose gifted by JIm Hyslop, in memory or his mother, flourishing on the front wall of Sundial Cottage as well as the plants added to the rockery by Stewart McColm, who also cut the boundary hedges. Kenneth Anderson has been our faithful grass cutter again and thanks are to them and all those who have helped us during the past year.

We would also like to make special mention of Muriel Durie, Marlene Marshall and Helen White who have retired from the day to day running of the Centre but who will help when the need arises. We also thank Joan Neilson who has recently moved away to Stirling. Sadly she has since been ill and we wish her a speedy recovery. Hugh Buck and Mike Renwick, as guides are welcome additions to our work force. Hugh spent several years as a vet in Kenya and Mike has explored the region around Thomson's Falls. Recently we had a visit from Niles Helmbolt at whose expense handyman Karl did amazing work to help prepare the house. Niles has created the web site "Go Africa" and invites us to use it free of charge.

This year we hope to concentrate on building up a store of photos and information about our local families which will be arranged in alphabetical order and be access from the new bookcases. The books will be clearly marked on the spine. We look forward to contributions from the families to go alongside those which he have already in our archives. We also plan to buy an additional display cabinet in which to rotate artefacts of interest.

Wesare pleased to be invited to give presentatiions to outside organisations such as Church Guilds, Probus Clubs and Heritage Societies who make us most welcome. 

As chairperson, I want to thank everyone who has made any kind of contribution whatsoever towards the maintenance and imoprovement of the Joseph Thomson Local Heritage Centre thus ensuring that it will continue to be a great asset to Penpont, Keir and Tynron.

Sophia Harkness


Report presented to the Annual General Meeting

22 May 2017











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The Centre will open for the season on Saturday 7th April 2018, 2.00 - 4.00pm.  We will only be open on Saturdays during the season until further notice. We are happy to invite you to contact us to arrange a suitable time for a visit at other times. 


You can find the Post Office in the Joseph Thomson Room within the Centre on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons between 2.00 - 4.00pm.





We are pleased to have the Joseph Thomson Maasai Trust and the Olakira Le Maa Trust join our website. These new pages are: 

JT Maasai Trust

The Walk

The Olakira Le Maa Trust



 If you are looking for any heritage information please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking here.



We are planning to show some of the local films made by our Chairperson, Sophia Harkness during March 2018 and are also planning a talk by Hugh Buck, our secretary on his time in Kenya in the 60s. this will be introduced by Sophia.  Please check out the Forthcoming Events page for further information by clicking here.

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